The word macerate, in cooking, means to let food soak in a liquid to absorb flavor. Another term that means the same thing is "marinate". But there is another difference.
What Does Macerate Mean?
Macerate is usually used to describe letting fruit soak in liqueurs. Technically, a dictionary definition of the term is "allow to become soft by steeping in a liquid." Foods that are "marinated", on the other hand, usually includes meats such as chicken, steak, and pork.
Foods are usually macerated when preparing desserts such as trifles or fruit sauces. The fruit becomes softer and it absorbs the flavor of the soaking liquid. Dried fruit plumps up a bit, while the edges of fresh fruits dissolve slightly.
How to Macerate Fruit
It is also possible to macerate fruits by simply sprinkling them with granulated sugar. The best fruits to use in this method are soft, such as blueberries, strawberries, bananas, or orange segments. The sugar breaks down the cell walls in the surface of the fruit, which lets moisture seep out. The liquid that emerges from the fruit combines with the sugar to form a syrup. Sugar can be combined with a liquid to add sweetness to the fruit and to hasten the maceration process.
Most maceration is accomplished quickly, within a few minutes. Softer fruits like raspberries and strawberries require only about 5 minutes to become soft, which other fruits, such as cherries or dried fruits, can take overnight to absorb liquid so their texture changes.
Choose the macerating liquid carefully. You may want to use citrus juice such as lemon or orange juice, or liqueurs such as Grand Marnier (orange flavored), Cointreau, Chambord (raspberry liqueur), or Creme de cassis or a coffee liqueur. Rum or bourbon add a much stronger flavor to macerated fruits, and these ingredients will actually preserve the fruits.
Instead of granulated sugar, think about using brown sugar, powdered sugar, honey or maple syrup. Spices such as ginger and cinnamon can also be added to macerated fruit, and you can add herbs, vinegar, ginger, or flavored extracts such as vanilla or mint too.
When you decide to macerate fruit, think about the flavors you want to bring out. Strawberries or raspberries would be delicious macerated in a bit of sugar, with some lemon juice, lemon peel, and framboise, which is a raspberry liqueur. Macerate pitted and stemmed cherries in some honey, along with vanilla, balsamic vinegar, and cinnamon. Peaches can be macerated in lemon juice and sugar.
Serve macerated fruits over ice cream, or with slices of pound cake or angel food cake. They can also be served as a sauce, paired with grilled chicken or fish.